Eli has written a guide to over 1,000 Tarzan books published in Israel. Although it is in Hebrew, it is illustrated throughout with dustwrappers & pictorial bindings from all the main Tarzan series published in Israel. So it is a book of interest even for the majority who do not read Hebrew. Violet Books sells this book. The Violet Books edition has a specially added English language introduction which is a greatly expanded version of the article below. Go to the ERB section of the Lost Race & Adventure Fantasy Catalog for price & a discription of this exhaustive body of research.

Tarzan in Israel

by Eli Eshed

   

   

I would like to report on a very little known but at its time quite intense phenomenon,the extraordinary popularity of Tarzan in Israel began in the 1930s & lasted into the 'sixties. The first eleven Tarzan books where translated into Hebrew at the end of the 'thirties. They were immediately very popular. This popularity increased over time, so that at the 'forties & 'fifties interest was so intense & so wide ranging that Israel's most famous & popular series author for children's chasamba Igal Mosinzon who wrote about a group of heroic children, was purportedly written to fight their "damaging" influence on children, as the author had stated many times, even in the books themselves. The characters sometimes said that it is better for the nation if children will read their own adventures than those of Tarzan!

The peak of this popularity was 1954 to 1964 with a particularly extreme obsession in 1960-1961. At that time there were 10 competing Tarzan series on the stands, all originals & all without the knowledge of the American publisher. Some were written by future popular writers in israel,such as Amos Keinan under the Name Yovav. In all, some 900 such issues were published by some ten competing publishers. Their success was so great that many lawsuits resulted between the various unauthorized publishers. The actual number of the Israeli issues that were published was something like 940. The original American publishers, needless to say, didn't see a penny from all of this.

Tarzan had become almost a national obsession in Israel, with many jokes, a famous song, & caricatures about him. There was even a series of books about the adventures of Tarzan fans!

Interestingly the subject of many (at least half) of the Tarzan stories was science fictional. Tarzan fought many, many invasions from space & even got a knighthood from the British queen for stoping one such invasion. He went several times to other planets & sometimes found that the peoples there were already familiar with him since they were readers of his sundry adventures. He also time-travelled both to the far past & the far future, anticipating by many years the books of Philip Jose Farmer about a similarly time travelling Tarzan.

In the stories Tarzan was presented as a sort of super agent akin to Fox Moulder, the world's number one expert on monsters & aliens. It was Tarzan upon whom the government always called when the world faced some kind of danger such as an indestructible mummy, gigantic ants, murderous Godzilla, living skeleton, or an army of Draculas. All those & much more where presented as daily routine for Tarzan. These were perhaps the first true original sf stories written in Israel.

There were some Tarzan stories in which he was presented as helping the Israeli government. At one point he was presented as helping the Jewish illegal immigration to Palestine at the time of the British mandate, & for which he was thrown to prison by his fellow British. On another occasion he singlehandedly broken the Egyptian blockade against Israel at Suez, killing many Egyptian soldiers on the way. At other times he stopped various Nazi-aided Egyptian schemes to conquer Africa & the world.

Some of the Israeli Tarzan stories described his meetings with other well known characters such as Dracula & Doctor Fu Manchu. They even let him meet characters which originally were imitations of his such as the lion boy Kaspa, the jungle girl Sheena, & the Indian jungle man Zimbo who had originally appeared in a series of Indian jungle movies.

At the same time, Syria & Lebanon were issuing similar unauthorised series about Tarzan in which he was presented as fighting the evil Jews & their attempt to achieve world domination. Why the stories were also so popular in the Arabic countries I don't know. The original stories are definitely full of anti Arab streotypes. But then there are some not very nice Jewish streotyps as well. However there was an article in The Journal of Popular Culture [1] which dealt exactly with this phenomenon & postulated reasons [2].

One of the 1960 imitations was a Zionist answer to Tarzan, "Dan-Tarzan." Dan-Tarzan was a Israeli boy who crash landed in the African Jungle where he was reared by the granddaughter of Kala the she-ape which had previously raised Tarzan. Dan-Tarzan becomes a new Tarzan (who according to these stories "died many years ago") & eventually comes to Israel where he becomes a mossad agent. He even catches Adolf Eichman & brings him to Israel! -- a story which caused many comments in the Israeli newspapers of the times. In a sequel story catch Eichman again, after the Nazi criminal escapes his prison to Egypt. Other stories in that series were just as fantastic as in the actual Tarzan series, depicting his voyages to another planet, his war on space invaders, his finding a lost city of ancient Hebrews warriors at the dead sea, & so on.

Why was Tarzan such an inspiration to the early state of Israel? In Israel of the time there was a great interest in the continent of Africa, for Israel was trying to forge relationships with recently emerging nations by forming diplomatic contacts, by sending teachers & doctors, & by other means. In some way the original eleven Tarzan stories & his character symbolised this interest in Africa, even though I have to admit the Africa in the stories was mostly colonial & ruled by the British. However, later stories presented Tarzan as helping the black freedom fighters in places like Biafra, a nation which Israel had helped much in real life. In some way many Israelies indentified themselves with Tarzan: the civilised man who brings culture & freedom to the savages & along the way stops various schemes of evil Nazies & Arabs.

On the other hand, Tarzan became, in Israel, the kind of fantastic character caught up in all kind of various science fiction situations which have no relations to the original character. These show the interest which was in Israel of the times in science fiction subjects. Because sf as a genre was frowned upon as too frivolous, the Tarzan stories were almost the only outlet for that kind of imaginative entertainment [3].

   

Notes:

1. Eli adds: "The article in the Journal of Popular Culture was: 'Tarzan of Arabia' by James R. Nesteby published in number 1, volume 15 , 1981. The article described the great popularity of Tarzan among the Arab peoples & in a sense is a counter part to my article about Tarzan in Israel."

2. What Eli describes is a thoroughly mutual use of Tarzan for opposed political expression among Israelites & Syrians. Even the obsession with alien invasion from outer space is easily read as an allegory for the fear of Moslem opposition & terrorism, striving toward the destruction of "the world" symbolized by a young & vital Israel. There is nothing surprising in Syrians using the same character to stand against what was, from their point of view, a Jewish desire to destroy Islamic Palestine.

3. Omri Schwartz, at the ERB newsgroup where I first "met" Eli, added this comment: "Along the same line, there are Conan novels that were published in Russia, completely unauthorized, & never translated into English."

"Tarzan in Israel" copyright 1999 by Eli Eshed.
The Weird Review includes a description of Tarzan in the Holy Land & the
page has an additional illustration from the book.




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